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Cocoa boosts NO

A mere six grams a day of dark chocolate can help reduce high blood pressure in older men and women. The thirty milligrams of polyphenols contained in this amount of chocolate helps lower their blood pressure, researchers at the university hospital in Cologne, Germany discovered.

The researchers gave forty test subjects six grams of dark chocolate daily for eighteen weeks. During the period the subjects' systolic blood pressure decreased by three mm Hg. The diastolic blood pressure decreased by two mm Hg. The test subjects did not put on weight.

The researchers measured the concentration of polyphenols in the subjects’ blood after eating the chocolate. The results are shown below.

Cocoa boosts NO

The researchers suspect that the polyphenols led to an increase in the production of nitric oxide [NO] in the blood vessels. This helps dilate the blood vessels and as a result blood pressure goes down. To test this theory they measured the amount of the enzyme S-nitrosoglutathione in the test subjects' blood. This enzyme is a marker for the concentration of NO.

The graph below shows the effect of the chocolate on the enzyme level in the test subjects.

Cocoa boosts NO

The graph below shows the effect on the levels of the same enzyme immediately after the chocolate was consumed.

Cocoa boosts NO

This study is not just of interest to health maniacs. It is also of interest to weight trainers. NO is a factor in hypertrophy.

Anabolic supplements designed to increase NO production are already popular. Most of them contain the amino acid L-arginine or L-citrulline. Arginine supplements also reduce the loss of muscle mass during weight reduction. It may be that the polyphenols in cocoa strengthen the effect of these products.

JAMA. 2007;298:49-60.